Jun 15 2011 2:30pm

The Big Lie: “You’re Better Off Without Me”

Shattered by JoAnn RossAhh, the noble hero. How can you not love a man who is selfless, stoic, and self-sacrificing...well, at least until he tells the heroine The Big Lie, the one that starts out, “You’re better off without me.”

The hero decides, on his own, without consulting the heroine, that it’s best for her to move on with her life, leaving him behind. While he doesn’t do this lightly, and he genuinely wants to ensure she has a better future, his noble actions usually end up breaking the heroine’s heart (not to mention the reader’s).

Let me show you what I mean:

Shattered by Joann Ross—Shane Garrett is an Army Night Stalker pilot, cocky and confident, and completely in lust with Army doctor Kirby Campbell. They spend many hours in bed before he leaves on another mission, and they don’t meet up again until he is brought, severely wounded, to the field hospital where she works. She does her best to patch him up so he can make it out alive to a military hospital. When she goes to visit him there, after his leg has been amputated, he does everything possible to send her away, insisting whatever feelings they’d had for each other were merely a result of the wartime environment. She tries several times to change his mind, but to no avail:

“Thanks for coming all this way just to check on me,” he said instead. “And hey, again, thanks for saving my life.”

She forced a brave smile as she wavered between leaving while she still possessed some small shred of dignity, or climbing up on that bed and strangling him with her bare hands.

“Hey.” Opting for dignity, she forced a light note into her voice. “I was just doing my job.”

She bent down to kiss him. So they’d been lovers. Surely they could leave this emotional train wreck as friends. What could be wrong with a simple good-bye kiss between friends.

Apparently, a lot.

He turned his head at the last second, causing her lips to brush his cheek.

It took every ounce of self-restraint Kirby possessed, but she managed, somehow, to keep from weeping until she was walking back down that long, long hallway.

It was only after she was gone that Shane, proving that even hotshot Night Stalkers could cry, put his pillow over his face.

Then bawled like a damn baby.

Edge of Sight by Roxanne St. ClaireEdge of Sight by Roxanne St. Claire—The book actually starts in a later point in the story, but there is a wonderful deleted scene, a prologue, on Ms. St. Claire’s website which shows the hero Zach and the heroine Sammi when they first meet at a party, while he’s on leave from Iraq. Their attraction is instant, and they go from zero to sexy before the party is even half over. They spend the next nineteen days and nights together, and on the last morning, when Zach is getting ready to leave, Sammi confesses she has fallen in love.

He just stared at her, knowing what he should say...he should tell her how he felt.

But to tell her that was a contract...and he knew Sam. She’d abide by it. And that would only make her lonely and miserable. He had no right. “I have to go now,” he said quietly, standing quickly to avoid looking at her, not wanting to see the words hit her heart.

She tries to get him to commit to having some kind of contact with her while he’s gone, and he does his best to show how unlikely it is, without revealing how much pain he’s going through, because he is determined to keep her from tying herself to him.

He hugged her again, his mouth on her forehead. “Sammi...”



He could feel her entire body tighten with anticipation. Say it, Zach. Say it. “I had the best three weeks of my life.”

She sunk a little in his arms. “Yeah. It was fun.”

He kissed her once more, chaste, simple, sweet.

“Goodbye, Zaccharia.”

“Bye.” The lump broke in his throat. He backed away, nodded once, and headed out the door, mentally making the promises he couldn’t make verbally.

When I get back, Sammi. When he got back, he’d change this conversation and make everything right. He’d say the words she wanted to hear, when he got back.

If he got back.

Hold on Tight by Stephanie TylerHold on Tight by Stephanie Tyler—There are so many wonderful storylines in each book of this series, but one is particularly poignant to me, even though he’s not the main hero. He’s known as Clutch, although his real name is Bobby, and he’s just recently divulged that to Sarah, the woman he loves. Her life is at risk now that he is trying to leave GOST, a special ops group that isn’t happy about his attempted departure. After being on the run, in danger, they spend the night together, with him reassuring her that he loved her and would keep her out of harm’s way. In the morning, he was gone.

Clutch had left Sarah the keys to his house—a place that was already paid for. He’d left her instructions, where he’d hidden money. The business he ran would close, but she’d have someplace to stay and she would have enough cash to get by for quite a while. He’d send her more, because he wasn’t going to need much.

GOST wouldn’t go after her—she’d be safe, because he was going back to them. He hadn’t planned on it, hadn’t wanted to leave her while she slept so peacefully, but at some point last night, when they’d been making plans, he’d known what he needed to do.

“You’ll come with me, then,” he murmured. “Into the wild, never looking back?”


“You can’t sell any more of your pictures. You won’t even be able to take them for pleasure. How can I take that away from you?”

“You’re not taking anything away from me. I’m giving it up willingly.” She stroked his back, cradled his head. And that’s when he made up his mind, wrote her a note that gave her some idea of the kinds of crimes he’d committed. Anything to make her fall out of love with him.

He returns to GOST, and when they ask why they should believe in his loyalty, he says:

“I agreed to this life, that’s why. And you agreed to leave anyone associated with me on the outside alive.”

A life for a life, and Sarah’s was always the more important. She could continue with her photography, go to school. Get married, have a family, get the hell out of this country, if she wanted.

She’d forget about him. And that would be the best thing she could do.

He wouldn’t forget anything about her for the rest of his life, though, no matter how long that was.

The man, John Caspar, stared him down for a second before shaking his hand. “Then the deal is done. Welcome back, Bobby.”

Clutch nodded, could swear he felt the last piece of his soul breaking off as he left the borrowed truck behind and got into John’s car.

Pardon me while I wipe away a tear or two for these noble wounded warriors, and the heartbroken women who love them. Which heroes have you read that tell The Big Lie? Share your favorites, so I can add some more angst to my reading list.


Donna Cummings writes lighthearted contemporary and historical romance. She can be found at, or talking incessantly about coffee on Twitter @BookEmDonna.

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Louise Partain
1. Louise321
Just finished re-reading Lord Perfect by the always entertaining Loretta Chase which stands this concept on its head. The lady tries to save the lord by leaving him. Of course, it's different when the brush-off happens to a male, especially this male. He doesn't accept it and continues to pursue her even when he knows the situation is impossible. Irresistable!

Are any of the females in these stories as stubborn as Lord Rathbourn?
Donna Cummings
2. Donna Cummings
@Louise321 -- I love it! The heroines in these stories are definitely persistent, but I'm not sure they're at quite the same level as Lord Perfect. LOL
3. Janga
Chase has another interesting take on the unworthy female in her new one, Louise. Also interesting, the heroine is a relative of Bathsheba's.

Donna, since Heyer is still on my mind, Damerel is the first teller of the big lie who comes to mind. I'm sure I'll think of others later.
4. Tracy Brogan
The tricky part with the whole "you're better off without me" thing is to be convincing. The best writers make the emotional pov of each character plausible and not an abrupt departure from their normal behavior. And they make sure it's not just a case of 'misunderstanding.' Excellent post, Donna! Thanks for sharing.
Louise Partain
5. Louise321
Yeah, Janga, that would be Last Night's Scandal, Olivia and Peregrine's story, which I re-read first and then went back to Bathsheba's story.

Come on, Janga, didn't you even mention Avon's "you're better off without me" speech in your blog on Mark I Heyer heroes?
Donna Cummings
6. Donna Cummings
@Janga -- I love Olivia in Last Night's Scandal, especially when she keeps saying she lacks moral fiber. LOL And I'd already written my post when I saw yours on Heyer. Great minds. :)

@Tracy -- I agree, it has to be convincing. And in these particular cases, it truly was, maybe because they are soldier/warrior types so it's easy to see WHY they are making this choice.
Carrie Strickler
7. DyslexicSquirrel
Sean McCloud from Edge of Midnight by Shannon McKenna. The "you're better off without me" moment happens about ten years before the book takes place. And it was more of a "I'm going to make you think I'm an asshole so you never talk to me again so people after my brother won't kill you" kind of thing. Of course, he was trying to save her life at the time, so it's excuseable. Live still makes him work for forgiveness, though!
Donna Cummings
8. Donna Cummings
@DyslexicSquirrel -- That's perfect -- exactly the noble kind of thing a hero would do, only it would be so much better if he'd let the heroine in on the whole thing. :) I like that he has to work hard to be forgiven too. LOL
9. Terri Osburn
You're killing me! Holy canolie!! I haven't read this kind of book in forever but dang it, now I really want to. Off to see if I can get these on my Reader. Since I haven't read this stuff in a while, I don't have much to offer. I think I remember Julie Garwood's Contemporary heroes being like this. But I read those years ago.
10. Havoc
"You're better off without me." This is the exact point where I put down the book, because I cannot and will not root for a "romantic" hero that thinks he knows a woman's life better than she knows it, and who makes unilateral decisions involving the woman without consulting her. That's not a romance. That's a man taking away a woman's choices and infantilizing her by paternalistically stating he's doing so for her own good. I want a romance between equals.
Donna Cummings
11. Donna Cummings
@TerriOsburn -- Sorry about that! LOL I've come across WAY too many books here, and I'm already buried in a zillion TBR piles. I haven't read any of the Julie Garwood contemps, but I'll add them to the list, just in case. :) @Havoc -- I definitely understand what you're saying. This scenario is probably similar to the heroine deciding to keep the news of a baby to herself, for the good of the child, the hero, or both. Hubris can be a fatal flaw for a character, unless they learn along the way that there are other, more inclusive, ways to handle these situations. Thankfully these characters did. :)
12. Marnee
Ooohh.... Pamela Clare's newest, Breaking Point, had one of these. Lots of angst. She's great, all around. Her I-Team books are wonderful.
Donna Cummings
13. Donna Cummings
@Marnee, I saw the Pamela Clare book at the story today--a rather fetching cover, dontcha know--but I didn't buy anything today. Looks like I better make a return trip tomorrow! Thanks for the rec.
14. Janga
Louise, the Chase book I had in mind is the one that will be released June 28, Silk Is for Seduction, the first in a new series, the Dressmakers--a spinoff of the Carsington books. The heroine of this one and her sisters are distant cousins of Bathsheba, more of the scandalous branch of the Wingates.

Donna, I think sometimes things are just in the air and like minds seize on them. We see it happen with books often.
Louise Partain
15. Louise321
Janga -- how exciting! More Dreadful Deluceys with impossible blue eyes! More Loretta Chase! More laughs! More adventure! More excited manly parts and throwing people out of windows?
16. Hellion
The obvious one that's coming to mind for me is Harry Potter when he tells Ginny he can't be with her any more. I wanted to strangle him for being a dumbass hero.

And it happens all the time in romances, but I can't remember them off hand. :)
Donna Cummings
17. Donna Cummings
@Janga -- You're right about "it's in the air". LOL @Louise -- I'm as excited as you are about the new Loretta Chase. It's always a treat. @Hellion -- It *can* drive a girl to extreme measures. LOL And I know what you mean about not remembering them when you're trying to recall them. I'm glad I got to re-read some faves while looking for these. :)
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